Ssangyong’s halo car: the Tivoli Sport R


Upright LED rear combination taillights, wide body color “C” pillars, a black roof, and black rear spoiler

Some people remember SsangYong as the Korean brand that formed an alliance with Mercedes-Benz and produced the popular midsize SUV Musso in 1993 using Benz technology.

Others remember SsangYong as the automotive manufacturer that went bankrupt and was rescued in 2011 by the giant Indian industrial conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra, which acquired 74 percent of the company.

SsangYong vehicles are now sold in 115 countries. In January 2016, SsangYong returned to the Philippines under the aegis of Berjaya Auto Philippines, the importer and distributor of Mazda vehicles since 2013.

Later, the Mazda distributor assumed the name Bermaz Auto Philippines to distinguish itself from SsangYong Berjaya Auto Philippines.  Bermaz Motor is the exclusive distributor of Mazda in Malaysia since 2008.

In April 2016, SsangYong Philippines began marketing the Tivoli 1.6-liter subcompact crossover, the 2.0-liter Korando compact crossover, and the Rodius MPV as its initial offerings.

Global launch

The Tivoli was launched globally in June 2015.  Engineered in conjunction with Mahindra & Mahindra, it may be considered the halo vehicle that would lead the SsangYong brand to full recovery in the future.

The Tivoli is offered in two variants: diesel and gasoline. Inquirer Motoring reviewed the CRDi diesel Tivoli XLV last Nov. 22, so an evaluation of the petrol Tivoli is in order.

The Tivoli Sport R, the top end of the Tivoli series, was introduced in time for the 2017 model year.

Red or white

A front wheel drive, five-seater subcompact hatchback, the Sport R comes in only two colors:  Flaming Red and Grand White.

The Sport R’s black roof and brilliant black 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels are what externally set it apart from the Tivoli Sport, which has a white roof and retails at P1.04 million, exactly P40,000 less than the P1.08 million Sport R.

Other than the black roof and brilliant black alloy wheels (the Sport’s rims are 18-inch machine-finished black aluminum alloys), the Sport and Sport R have the same specs: an inline 4-cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC Euro 4, 1.6-liter petrol engine with dual variable valve timing producing 128 ps and 160 Nm max torque; MacPherson struts in front, and torsion-beam axle at the rear; ventilated discs and solid discs fore and aft; projection headlamps; and LED DRLs (daytime running lamps).

Inside, however, there’s an astonishing difference. In the Sport R, the leather seats are red, the leather-wrapped steering wheel has red inserts, while the door trim upholstery is black leather with red insert.


The red leather and black interior color scheme with silver accents is stunning, if not garish, but it serves to highlight the sporty personality of the Sport R, and could appeal to the younger generation.

Both the Sport and the Sport R are equipped with a 7-inch LCD touchscreen that is HD but difficult to use and washes out in the sunlight. It has MP3, BT, USB and aux-in slots, and is Mirror Link-ready.

When the reverse rear view camera is engaged, the touchscreen tends to get dark and fails to give a clear picture of what’s behind.

Red leather, black plastic and silver trim accentuate the sporty, colorful theme of the interior.

Moreover, the rear parking sensor is over-sensitive, chirping loudly and alarmingly even when the rear end of the car is still a good space away from a wall or anything.

The audio system has six speakers, but the sound is muffled and not as concert hall-clear as similarly priced competitors’.

But these are minor, forgivable flaws counterbalanced by the Sport R’s good points.

The Tivoli takes off briskly when you step lightly on the gas, surging forward with gusto.


By no means is the Tivoli Sport R thrilling to drive, nor was it designed to be, yet it is surprisingly nimble in urban traffic, and leans only a bit when cornering.

The center circle inside the speedometer blinks a warning once you hit the highway and begin to exceed 100 kilometers per hour.

And for good reason: the engine begins to strain and lose steam at higher speeds as if to warn you that, hey, this is not the way to drive this car.

The 6-speed automatic transmission features a smart driving mode that allows you to choose among three options: Sport adjusts the electric power steering to increase responsiveness at high speed; Normal, the default mode, maintains the regular amount of steering wheel effort at medium speeds; while Comfort mode is recommended when driving at low speed or parking.

The brakes are extremely strong and reliable.

The illumination of the instrument cluster can be set to any of six background colors: red, blue, sky blue, yellow, white and black.

Greater comfort

The multifunction D-shaped steering wheel is covered with leather, and can be heated for greater comfort when needed, while the driver’s seat is ventilated with a fan adjustable to two settings, also for greater comfort.

The high driving position gives a good view of the road, although visibility rearward is obstructed by the extra wide “C” pillars.

The front as well as the rear seats are comfortable enough even for long trips.

The ride is firm, although some road noise invades the cabin due to the low-profile 215/45 R18 tires.

Cargo space behind the 60/40 split folding rear seats, standard at 423 liters, increases when the rear seats are pushed down, but not completely flat.

Safety features include driver and front passenger airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, smart keyless entry system, push start/stop button, reverse rear view camera and rear parking sensor.

Since the good points outnumber the Tivoli Sport R’s minor flaws, the logical conclusion is that it indeed qualifies to become SsangYong’s halo car.

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